The most recommended painting books

Who picked these books? Meet our 46 experts.

46 authors created a book list connected to painting, and here are their favorite painting books.
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Book cover of The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting

Joyce DiPastena Author Of Illuminations of the Heart

From my list on medieval illumination.

Who am I?

I’ve been in love with the Middle Ages ever since my mother handed me a copy of The Conquering Family, by Thomas B. Costain, when I was in the 7th grade. Eventually, I went on to earn a degree in history from the University of Arizona. In addition to the many colorful characters who impacted the medieval world, I became entranced with the art of the time period, particularly manuscript paintings. Their beauty, reverence, whimsy, even their occasional naughtiness, are, to me, simply enchanting! It was impossible not to share my love of this artform in at least one of my novels. Below are some of the books that helped me on my writing journey.

Joyce's book list on medieval illumination

Joyce DiPastena Why did Joyce love this book?

It’s hard to express the depths of my excitement when I discovered this book. This title allowed me to take research for my novel’s heroine to a whole new level. Should she use parchment or vellum, what was the difference, and when should she use one over the other? (Did you know the most sumptuous parchments were died purple? I didn’t until I read this book!) What was the difference between natural and artificial pigments as understood by medieval artists? And how did they create all those brilliant reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples, and more in their paintings? How did they make paint out of gold or apply gold leaf to their art? All these details and much, much more are laid out here. Everything a medieval artist, in life or in fiction, could possibly need to know! (This book also touches on other forms of medieval painting, like painting…

By Daniel V. Thompson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Medieval painters built up a tremendous range of technical resources for obtaining brilliance and permanence. In this volume, an internationally known authority on medieval paint technology describes these often jealously guarded recipes, lists of materials, and processes. Based upon years of study of medieval manuscripts and enlarged by laboratory analysis of medieval paintings, this book discusses carriers and grounds, binding media, pigments, coloring materials, and metals used in painting.
It describes the surfaces that the medieval artist painted upon, detailing their preparation. It analyzes binding media, discussing relative merits of glair versus gums, oil glazes, and other matters. It tells…


Book cover of Painting the Black

Dan Largent Author Of Before We Ever Spoke

From my list on baseball is part of the theme.

Who am I?

Before he became a bestselling author with his debut novel, Before We Ever Spoke, Dan Largent spent the better part of two decades as a high school baseball coach. In 2010, he guided Olmsted Falls High School to its first-ever State Final Four and was subsequently named Greater Cleveland Division I Coach of the Year. Dan stepped away from his duties as a baseball coach in 2017 to spend more time with his wife, April, and their three children Brooke, Grace, and Luke. He has, however, remained close to the game he loves by turning doubles into singles as a member of Cleveland’s finest 35 and over baseball league.

Dan's book list on baseball is part of the theme

Dan Largent Why did Dan love this book?

There was no way that I could ever put a book list together and NOT recommend one of Carl Deuker’s books. This book is aimed at the Young Adult crowd, but I first read it as an adult because Carl was my favorite author as a kid and I also happen to teach students in the YA crowd. 

Carl is the master of weaving complex societal issues and internal conflicts into plots that revolve around athletics. In Painting the Black he does just that as the main character, Ryan Ward, is faced with a choice that I am sure many readers can relate to.

Whether you are looking for a quick and poignant read, or you have a YA student at home who loves sports, Painting the Black is a must-read. 

By Carl Deuker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Painting the Black as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In his senior year of high school, late bloomer Ryan Ward has just begun to feel the magic of baseball—the thrill of catching a wicked slider, of throwing a runner out, of training hard and playing hard. His friend Josh, the star of the team, has helped Ryan push his limits. But when Josh clearly pushes the limits too far, Ryan is faced with a heartbreaking dilemma: he must choose between his love for the game and his sense of integrity.


Book cover of The Guardian of Mercy: How an Extraordinary Painting by Caravaggio Changed an Ordinary Life Today

Idanna Pucci Author Of The Lady of Sing Sing: An American Countess, an Italian Immigrant, and Their Epic Battle for Justice in New York's Gilded Age

From my list on far-flung places and times.

Who am I?

Early in life, I felt the presence of a “guardian angel” who would take my hand and accompany my mind to imagine distant cultures. I grew up in Florence, and in our history, there were so many tales of people coming from afar, and of Florentines traveling across deserts and oceans. And as time passed, I would be drawn to beautifully written true stories which opened windows onto different epochs and dramas of life in both near and far-flung places of the world.

Idanna's book list on far-flung places and times

Idanna Pucci Why did Idanna love this book?

In this wondrous book on Caravaggio, the world of Naples unfolds from the inside through an electrifying reading experience. Written with grace, almost every sentence imparts an epiphany. The author challenges us to undertake soul-work, even if one is a secular reader. Reading becomes an act of empathy and passion. In the words of Wallace Stevens, potential readers will become ‘necessary angels’.

By Terence Ward,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Guardian of Mercy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Profound New Look at the Italian Master and His Lasting Legacy

Now celebrated as one of the great painters of the Renaissance, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio fled Rome in 1606 to escape retribution for killing a man in a brawl. Three years later he was in Naples, where he painted The Seven Acts of Mercy. A year later he died at the age of thirty-eight under mysterious circumstances. Exploring Caravaggio's singular masterwork, in The Guardian of Mercy Terence Ward offers an incredible narrative journey into the heart of his artistry and his metamorphosis from fugitive to visionary.

Ward's guide…


Book cover of Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: And Other Tough-Love Truths to Make You a Better Writer

Jennifer Havice Author Of Finding the Right Message: How to Turn Voice of Customer Research Into Irresistible Website Copy

From my list on to deliver more persuasive messages.

Who am I?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been intrigued by how people make decisions and why the words we use can significantly impact those decisions. After years of conducting customer research and writing marketing messages for clients, my interest in finding and delivering compelling messages at just the right time to the right audience has only grown. I’ve poured my experience in the online marketing trenches into my book, Finding the Right Message, where I reference more than one of the authors on my recommendation list. 

Jennifer's book list on to deliver more persuasive messages

Jennifer Havice Why did Jennifer love this book?

Don’t let the title turn you off. This book helps any type of creator develop the most critical skill of connecting with their audience: empathy. Pressfield reminds us that we need to ask ourselves continually what’s in it for our reader, viewer, listener. Otherwise, we’ll end up speaking to no audience at all.  

By Steven Pressfield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There's a mantra that real writers know but wannabe writers don’t. And the secret phrase is this:

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T.

Recognizing this painful truth is the first step in the writer's transformation from amateur to professional.

“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, you develop empathy. You acquire the skill that is indispensable to all artists and entrepreneurs—the ability to switch back and forth in your imagination from your own point of view as writer/painter/seller to the point of view of your reader/gallery-goer/customer. You learn to ask yourself with ev­ery sentence and every phrase:…


Book cover of Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900

Catherine Hewitt Author Of Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon

From Catherine's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Cultural historian 19th-century specialist Francophile Women’s history aficionado Art and literature enthusiast

Catherine's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Plus, Catherine's 1, and 3-year-old's favorite books.

Catherine Hewitt Why did Catherine love this book?

Written to accompany the 2017-18 exhibition of the same name, this volume has become a bible to me of late.

These sparkling essays delve into what it really meant to be a woman and an artist working in this very unique city at a particular time. With its sumptuous array of pictures and its suite of familiar faces and hidden gems, what emerges here is a shared international history. This at a time when so many countries were at loggerheads. I found this compelling.

This isn’t the kind of book that you read cover to cover in one sitting, but whenever I dip into it, I feel I’ve been treated to both a history lesson and a tale of female empowerment, which gives a cheering reminder of just what can happen when talent meets determination.

By Laurence Madeline,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A celebration of the work and lives of women artists who shaped the art world of 19th-century Paris

In the second half of the 19th century, Paris attracted an international gathering of women artists, drawn to the French capital by its academies and museums, studios and salons. Featuring thirty-six artists from eleven different countries, this beautifully illustrated book explores the strength of these women's creative achievements, through paintings by acclaimed Impressionists such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, and extraordinary lesser-known artists such as Marie Bashkirtseff, Anna Bilinska-Bohdanowicz, Paula Modersohn-Becker, and Hanna Pauli. It examines their work against the sociopolitical…


Book cover of Poet and Painter

Dave McKean Author Of Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

From my list on Paul Nash.

Who am I?

I spent two years researching and creating the graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash for the 14-18Now Foundations WW1 centenary art commissions, and then touring a live permanence work evolved from the book. We grew up a few miles from each other, and he convalesced after the war where I live now, and I share his sense of place, and we appear to have shared many life experiences, with the obvious exception being his time in the trenches - that was the huge black hole I tried to understand with this work.

Dave's book list on Paul Nash

Dave McKean Why did Dave love this book?

More than any other book, this volume of letters between friends, and the unguarded insight they allow, gave me a sense of the man, his rhythms of speech, his manner of expression and his character. Career details and everyday mundanities mix with deeper concerns and the kind of excavation of ideas only really close and respectful friends can express.

By Claude Colleer, Anthony Bertram,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Poet and Painter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book bears witness to the staying power of Pre-Raphaelitism & illuminates the ambivalent, relatively uncritical response in England to the modern movement.


Book cover of Horse

Gerry Wilson Author Of That Pinson Girl

From Gerry's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Late-bloomer Music lover Reader Gourmet cook Cat person

Gerry's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Gerry Wilson Why did Gerry love this book?

The last time I rode a horse, I was twenty years old. I know little about horses or the racing culture, let alone its history. Yet I adored Geraldine Brooks’ Horse, which pairs a modern-day mystery surrounding a discarded painting of a legendary racehorse with a historical thread involving the world of racing in the pre-Civil War era.

I have loved all of Brooks’ historical novels, and as always, I admire the rich language and the attention to historical detail she seamlessly weaves into her stories. I love that she takes Horse a step further, portraying the devastating and far-reaching effects of slavery within the context of horse-racing history.

By Geraldine Brooks,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked Horse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Brooks' chronological and cross-disciplinary leaps are thrilling." -The New York Times Book Review

"Horse isn't just an animal story-it's a moving narrative about race and art." -TIME

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history

Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an…


Book cover of The Mill House Murders

Tom Mead Author Of The Murder Wheel: A Locked-Room Mystery

From Tom's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Crime fiction fan Mystery fan Golden age mystery fan Locked-room mystery fan

Tom's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Tom Mead Why did Tom love this book?

The Japanese mystery scene is packed with incredibly imaginative and original puzzlers, and Yukito Ayatsuji is one of the best in the business.

Astonishingly, this is only his second book to appear in English (after the equally amazing The Decagon House Murders), and it’s a tour-de-force of a country house mystery featuring gruesome murders, masked men, and a masterfully handled dual timeline. 

By Yukito Ayatsuji, Ho-Ling Wong (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mill House Murders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A twisty and ingenious classic Japanese murder mystery from the author of The Decagon House Murders

Every year, a small group of acquaintances pay a visit to the remote, castle-like Mill House, home to the reclusive Fujinuma Kiichi, son of a famous artist, who has lived his life behind a rubber mask ever since a disfiguring car accident. This year, however, the visit is disrupted by gruesome murder, a baffling disappearance and the theft of a priceless painting.

The brilliant Kiyoshi Shimada arrives on the scene, but as he investigates the seemingly impossible events of that evening, death strikes again,…


Book cover of Four Letters of Love

Lisa Stromme Author Of The Strawberry Girl

From my list on historical creativity and the arts.

Who am I?

I’m a British writer but I have lived in Norway for over twenty years. My yearning for history goes back as long as I can remember and I often feel trapped in the wrong time. Writing historical fiction is my way of delving into the past and bringing it back to life. I’ve always been creative and enjoyed arts and crafts and, as well as being a writer, I am also a creativity coach and have my own podcast, The Creatively You Show, which helps writers and artists deal with the emotional challenges of the creative process. My book choices reflect these interests and the broader themes of history and art.  

Lisa's book list on historical creativity and the arts

Lisa Stromme Why did Lisa love this book?

This beautiful book is possibly the most important book of my writing career. I found it in a second-hand bookstore in Dublin on a rainy afternoon and, like the plot, I felt that my finding it was a stroke of providence. I was so moved by the story that I immediately signed up for a writing workshop with the author. That workshop was a defining moment in my life – after it, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Although this story is not directly about art, it shows how a man’s calling, his compulsion to paint, plays a key role in the lives and the destinies of others. The novel has a fairytale-like quality to it, a poetic timelessness that captures the essence of spirituality and love.

By Niall Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Four Letters of Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A classic love story and a seminal work of Irish literature that is a testament to romance, magic and the power of true love. With an introduction by actor John Hurt.

In love everything changes, and continues changing all the time. There is no stillness, no stopped clock of the heart in which the moment of happiness holds forever, but only the constant whirring forward motion of desire and need. . .

Nicholas Coughlan and Isabel Gore are meant for each other - they just don't know it yet. Though each has found both heartache and joy in the wild…


Book cover of The Book of Hidden Wonders

Steena Holmes Author Of The Patient

From my list on that keep you up past your bedtime.

Who am I?

As a teenager, I loved reading past my bedtime, getting lost within a story, then having it fill my dreams and leaving me on the hunt for another book just as good. The best books to read are those that draw me in with their voice and storytelling and leave me needing to turn page after page. Getting in trouble as a kid for reading too late was the best type of trouble to get into and even now, when I need to make a second pot of coffee after a night of reading, I walk away with no regrets. 

Steena's book list on that keep you up past your bedtime

Steena Holmes Why did Steena love this book?

This story mesmerized me. It’s deceptively deep with a hint of whimsical, and the story plays out in your mind like a movie. It’s so beautifully written that I felt myself pulled in so many emotional directions and needed to let the book sit with me after I finished the final page. 

By Polly Crosby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Hidden Wonders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A young girl. A hidden treasure. A dark family secret.

'Evocative and enchanting - a future classic' Veronica Henry
'An extraordinary debut... beautiful, dark, haunting' Edward Carey
'A captivating coming-of-age story' Daily Mail
'A bewitching read' Woman & Home

Romilly lives in a ramshackle house with her eccentric artist father and her cat, Monty. She knows little about her past - but she knows that she is loved.

When her father finds fame with a series of children's books starring her as the main character, everything changes: exotic foods appear on the table, her father appears on TV, and strangers…